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If you're new to using miles and points for award travel, this Beginner's Guide to Miles and Points is for you. It may also come in handy as an easy reference guide, if you're looking for one of our more popular prior posts.

To put this in context, for my family, miles and points enables us all to travel first and business class internationally to many of our dream destinations for the cost of taxes, instead of the retail cost of up to $25, 000 per ticket.

While everyone can differ on their favorite frequent flyer programs, credit cards and redemptions, what's common to virtually everyone is a concerted strategy and organization to earn the miles and points and then to redeem them. If you're starting out, chances are that even a few changes in your credit card applications and the cards you use for certain spend can make a significant difference in the miles and points you earn in a year.

1. Dream Big: Decide On Your Travel Goals

The very first step is also the most fun (apart from the actual travel, of course!): Decide where you really want to travel to over the next few years. This is a great thing to do anyway, since it helps move some destinations from only the "dream" or "bucket list" category into actual travel planning. And if you're part of a couple or family, it's good to see which places you both want to visit sooner rather than later.

2. Focus on the Best Frequent Flyer and Loyalty Programs for Your Travel Goals

The reason I especially recommend deciding your travel goals as the first step for a miles and points strategy is that it has implications for the miles and points you want to focus on earning first. While there are always exceptions, here are some rough recommendations I have by geographical region, in terms of miles. Keep in mind transferable points options and even buying miles as a way of topping up an account for an award redemption.

  • Europe in First Class: United MileagePlus Miles, BA Avios
  • Europe in Business Class: American AAdvantage Miles, United MileagePlus Miles, BA Avios
  • Asia in First Class: American AAdvantage Miles, Singapore KrisFlyer Miles
  • Asia in Business Class: AAdvantage Miles, United MileagePlus Miles
  • Australia/New Zealand in Business Class: Delta SkyMiles, United MileagePlus Miles (if routing via Asia)
  • South America in Business Class: American AAdvantage Miles
  • Middle East in First Class or Business Class: American AAdvantage Miles
  • Africa in Business Class: United MileagePlus Miles, British Airways Avios

3. Organize and Track Your Miles and Points

If you belong to a number of frequent flyer programs, you can use a service such as to track them. The basic service is free, and with a donation, you can track the expiration of an unlimited number of accounts. Do note that certain airlines don't allow automatic updating; there is sometimes a workaround whereby you can have your statements sent to AwardWallet in order to update your balances and history.

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